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Tuesday Watercooler


Tonight’s music video is Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down A Dream” from the album Full Moon Fever.

Screenshot of Max Headroom against a computer animated background.

Dear NSA H-h-h-hack this!

Motherboard from Vice featured a long, fascinating study of one of the strangest episodes in hacking history. From “The Mystery of the Creepiest Television Hack:”

[S]uddenly and without warning, the signal flickered up and out into darkness. In the control room of WGN-TV, the technicians on duty stared blankly at their screens. It was from their studio, located at Bradley Place in the north of the city, that the network broadcasted its microwave transmission to an antenna at the top of the 100-story John Hancock tower, seven miles away, and then out to tens of thousands of viewers. Time seemed to slow to a trickle as they watched that signal get hijacked.

A squat, suited figure sputtered into being, and bounced around maniacally. Wearing a ghoulish rubbery mask with sunglasses and a frozen grin, the mysterious intruder looked like a cross between Richard Nixon and the Joker. Static hissed through the signal; behind him, a slab of corrugated metal spun hypnotically. This was not part of the regularly scheduled broadcast.

Finally someone switched the uplink frequencies, and the studio zapped back to the screen. There was [Sportcaster Dan] Roan, at his desk in the studio, smiling at the camera, dumbfounded. ‘Well, if you’re wondering what’s happened,’ he said, chuckling nervously, ‘so am I.’

The first hack was followed by a second, even more audacious and bizarre hack later that night. The event that would enter popular mythology, aped in dozens of film and TV shows where underdogs “hack the signal.” Though no one has ever been charged and the mystery remains unsolved, the Motherboard article uses videos, interviews, and FOIA’d documents to come as close to a solution as possible.

Bonus: Watch the original TV pilot of Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the FutureThe TV series only lasted 11 episodes in the United States, and is nearly a textbook example of “ahead of its time.”

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Screenshot from the UK pilot of Max Headroom via Flickr.

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and